Good news doesn’t come with a police escort.
Stagge had showed his ID, giving me plenty of time to look it over. “Can I speak to you, Mr. Davidson?”
I’d stepped back without a word, and Stagge walked past me. The unis waited on the porch, pulling sentry duty. That alone alerted me as to what was coming.
“He’s out, isn’t he?” I’d said to Stagge. “He escaped.”
I waited for Stagge to say no, of course not. This was something totally different. Suspicion of cutting the tags off pillows or jaywalking or tossing beer bottles in the nonrecyclable trash.
Stagge sighed, which struck me even then as a slightly odd response. Like he was tired of the whole situation or maybe he was pained to have to be the one to deliver the news.
“Yes,” he said. “Barbour escaped sometime before five a.m. this morning.”
“Sometime before five? You mean he’s been out all night?”
“No. There’s surveillance footage of him just before the five a.m. headcount.”
“How could he get out? It’s supposed to be a maximum security facility.”
Stagge gave another of those weary sighs, like he couldn’t believe he had to say this.
“An investigation is underway, but it appears Barbour slipped out unnoticed right after the guards finished their initial morning headcount of prisoners.”
“But how the hell could he get off the premises? I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I.” Maybe that was more frank than Stagge had intended. He was using his press conference voice when he added, “It appears that Barbour cut through steel bars, crawled through the plumbing tunnels, and then used linens to rappel off the roof of the jail.”
I felt… Not a lot. Not at first. I had been expecting this for three years, so there was no shock. I was ready. I had my own escape plan. But I felt no instant rush of adrenaline, no firing of synapses.
It had finally happened. And mostly what I felt was numb.
Stagge was still explaining. “He almost certainly had help, and that accomplice likely picked him up after he hit the streets.”
It seemed a long time and a lot of effort before I could form words. “You think he’s coming after me.”
It wasn’t a question. I knew Ricky was coming after me. He had said he would. He was a firm believer in revenge. No wrong, whether great or small, should go unpunished in Ricky’s opinion. And my refusal to die on schedule was viewed by him as a deliberate wronging.
Something flashed across Stagge’s face. Some complicated emotion, though he didn’t look like a guy who would have time for complicated emotions.
“No. I don’t. He’d have to be pretty stupid. And I don’t think Barbour is stupid.”
“He’s not stupid,” I said. “But when he’s angry, that’s all that’s in his mind.”
“Maybe. But he’s had three years to cool down.”
Like all cops, I’m sure Stagge thought I was getting exactly what I deserved, but the gruff note in his voice indicated something that might have almost been sympathy. Or at least commiseration.
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t believe him, and that must have been obvious.
He said, “In any case, that’s why I’m here.”
I looked at him without comprehension. I was mentally running through my options. It was roughly three hours to Lone Pine. I could be packed in thirty minutes. Half that. Grab my toothbrush. Grab my pistol. Throw a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts in a backpack. Call the post office to put my mail on hold. I could buy supplies on the way.
Stagge said, “The department is offering you police protection.”
It took a moment to register. “Police protection?”
“Correct. Of course. If you want it, you’ve got it.”
I said sardonically, “That’s pretty generous. Considering.”
“It’s standard procedure in a case like this. Not that we have a lot of cases like this. Anyway, I strongly suggest you accept the offer.”
“Why? Didn’t you just say Barbour is not coming after me?”
Stagge said, “I don’t believe he’s coming after you. But why would any of us want to take a chance on that?”
I knew why I didn’t want to take a chance. Stagge seemed to have missed a memo.
I said, “I think, under the circumstances, I’ll be better off on my own.”
Stagge did not take offense. “That depends. Are you planning to leave town? Do you have some place to go that Barbour doesn’t know about? Friends or family out of state that you could stay with?”
There was something reassuring about his impersonal, practical approach.
I said, “No. I have a place near Lone Pine. Nobody knows about it. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. I’ll be fine on my own out there.”
“Under these circumstances I don’t think you’d be better off on your own. As I’m sure, if you’ll think for a minute, you’ll realize.”
“Then what? Are you suggesting a safe house? Protective custody?”
“Protection detail,” Stagge said. “I’ll accompany you to the residence in Lone Pine and stay with you until Barbour is recaptured.”
His light, steady gaze challenged mine.
I’ve got as much ego as the next guy. I don’t like depending on anyone else or admitting that I can’t handle everything on my own. I also know what it means to be stalked by a psychopath. To nearly be killed by someone you used to love and trust. As I stared into Stagge’s eyes I could feel the scars on my chest and back twinge and tingle with phantom pain, a reminder that survival sometimes comes down to knowing when to cry for help.
Stagge read my silence correctly. He nodded, glanced around the room, and asked, “Just to verify. You live on your own? Do you have a spouse? A partner?”
“No. It’s just me.” I said, “These days I take a dim view of romance.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish